Lunchtime creamy mashed beans

Do you get stuck thinking of things to have for lunch to take to work or college, or even at home? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a canteen or take-away that has whole-food plant-based options that’s great. But it can become an expensive habit.  And whilst hummus is a wonderful thing, it’s fair to say that not everyone wants to eat it every day for lunch!

This creamy bean recipe is super tasty and versatile too. You can eat it as a stand alone salad, pack it into a wrap or sandwich as a filling or use to top a baked potato. I’ve even served it in crunchy lettuce leaves for a buffet lunch, as you can see in the photo below.

The mix of raw veggies give it a satisfying crunch. The beans are filling and absorb the flavours well. They also help create the creamy texture alongside the gorgeous dairy-free tofu mayo.

Apart from the versatility in uses, you can also easily adapt the ingredients in case of food intolerances or dislikes, or just to mix it up. I’ve used celery, peppers and red onion, but you could use spring onion, cucumber, courgette, sweetcorn, carrot or any other finely chopped veg you like. And with the mayo you could add in fresh herbs like coriander or chives to create delicious fresh flavours.

And of course the other thing that can be varied is the bean. I’ve used cannelloni beans, but chickpeas or butter beans would work well too. One base recipe, many options!

The mayo is super easy to make and will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. It’s also perfect for anyone with a nut allergy or who has to eat nut free for some reason. Make sure you use soft or silken tofu rather than a firmer one, otherwise it won’t blend well to create the creamy texture. If you cannot tolerate fresh garlic, then leave it out, but it does give a little extra flavour. And the extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil provides that final creamy embellish, as well as some wonderfully helpful anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, making it a great option for anyone following a low saturated fat programme like OMS.

So if you want a lunch time alternative, why not give this a go? Do let me know how you get on, and what flavour combinations work for you.

Creamy mashed beans mix
400g tin white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 medium stick celery, finely diced
For the mayo:
100g silken tofu, drained
1 small clove garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon french mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or hempseed oil
salt and pepper to taste

Make the mayo by placing the tofu, garlic, mustard and lemon juice into a small blender bowl and blend until smooth. Add the oil and seasoning and blitz again. Taste and add more mustard, lemon, oil or seasoning as needed. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

Place the drained beans into a medium-sized bowl and roughly mash. You want them broken up but retain a little texture. Add the finely chopped vegetables then stir in enough mayo to cover – don’t add too much if you’re using it for sandwiches otherwise it will ooze out! Check the flavour, add more seasoning if needed and either use straight away or cover and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
 

Warm mashed beans with lemon and thyme

One of the many wonderful things about eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it’s a constant voyage of discovery. Wherever I am, there are always new ingredients to try out, or local recipes to adapt. Some experiments are a success, others not so much. It’s definitely not dull, that’s for sure.

Some of the tastiest ideas come from necessity rather than choice. Todays recipe is the perfect example; we needed lunch but there was only a random mix of bits and bobs left in the fridge. Fortunately, one of those things was a tub of fresh borlotti beans bought at the market the previous weekend, cooked and waiting for inspiration.

I’m over in our new house in Portugal at the moment. One of the many things I love about this area is the local fruit and vegetable market held in the local town square every morning. It’s everything you could want from a farmers market – small, local producers selling fresh seasonal products direct to the buyer. There’s colour fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds as well as fresh bread and the odd jam or chutney. This photo is of me waiting patiently at my favourite tomato stall. The elderly lady you can see is the mother of the chap who grows this amazing crop at his farm just down the road to my house. It really is local produce!

Some stalls sell freshly podded beans. And I mean fresh – you can watch them do it, nimble fingers with many years experience popping out beans at quite a speed. This fresh means they are packed with many more nutrients than anything that’s tinned or dried.  I bought a huge bag for just €3 which made four different meals – cost effective as well as super healthy.

This mashed bean recipe has been floating round my head for a while. It’s super simple but amazingly tasty, although it’s not the prettiest one to look at! But ugly ducklings can bloom into something wonderful, so don’t be put off by its appearance. With the thyme, garlic and lemon juice, it’s like a Mediterranean version of recooked beans, super tasty and rather moreish.

Lunchtime can be a bit of challenge at times when eating plant-based. I’m often asked for lunchbox ideas, anything that’s not hummus. Not that there’s anything wrong with hummus! It’s just good to have a change. Although this recipe is served warm here, it can be enjoyed just as much cold as a sandwich or wrap filling with some crunchy vegetables and an extra pinch of salt.

If you don’t have access to fresh borlotti beans, don’t worry, tinned will work. Rinse them well first then pop them in the pan with everything else. If you are using fresh, pre-cook them in a little vegetable stock before mashing together will the herbs and lemon to make sure they are soft and creamy. If you can’t find borlotti beans, use cannelloni or even flageolet instead.

I served these crushed beans with a spinach and tomato salad and a couple of slices of homemade sourdough bread. Fresh, simple and delicious. If you make these, let me know how it goes, and how you ate it too. Enjoy!

Warm mashed beans with lemon and thyme (serves 3-4)
400g fresh or tinned borlotti beans
2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
juice 1 lemon
salt and pepper
flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives or parsley to garnish

Place the beans and the garlic in a small pan along with 4 tablespoons of water. Heat gently stirring regularly to stop the garlic from burning. Add the thyme. When the garlic releases its aroma, carefully mash the beans until they are all broken down but with some texture. Turn off the heat, pour in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and pour in a good glug of flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. Finally garnish with the chives and serve.

Apple and oat muffins

Muffins were in the news earlier this year following a report that outed many shop-bought versions as being the less-than healthy option they might appear to be (click here for the link). Some blueberry ones tested didn’t have anything close to a real blueberry in them, just some synthetic sugar replacement. Plus lots of refined sugar and oils. That’s definitely not a healthy muffin!

These muffins on the other hand are on the complete other end of the scale. Being a whole-food plant-based version, they contain no refined oils, eggs or sugar but do have wholegrain and oats plus lots of healthy fibre and phytonutrients. Perfect for a breakfast on-the-go, mid-morning snack, lunch box treat or to fuel some exercise. Or you could just eat them because they taste delicious!

The key difference with these muffins to those made with lots of oil and sugar is the texture. Apple puree replaces the oil and it’s heavy. This makes it more difficult for the baking agents to elicit a light fluffy rise, resulting in a dense and somewhat heavy muffin. Pick it up and you know that muffin is going to be good for you!

Apple also replaces much of the normal added sugar; eating apples do not need to be sweetened and cook down into a good puree. The ones I made for the photos used some puree I had in the freezer from my own prolific apple tree, so maybe they tasted even better for being home grown! The combination of apple and cinnamon not only tastes amazing but does magic tricks in your body. Cooked apple is a wonderful pre-biotic, feeding the friendly bacteria that live in the gut – they love it! And cinnamon helps the body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream into the cells, promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

A word of warning – because these muffins contain no oil, they have a habit of sticking to the muffin paper, although oddly only on the day they are baked (which is also the day they taste the best, fresh out of the oven). This is frustrating, especially if you want to dive in and end up consuming more fibre than you anticipated by nibbling on wrapper! One way around this is to skip using the cases and bake directly into a well-greased non-stick muffin tin. If you’re not too worried about have extra oil, you could add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the mix. I just know the one I eat the day I make them will require some paper nibbling and just enjoy them as they are!

So if you are looking for a tasty muffin that’s filling, full of healthy nutrients and ticks all the ‘good’ boxes, then try a batch of these. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Oat and apple muffins (makes 12)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
200mls non-dairy milk (preferably soya)
Squeeze of lemon or ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
220g unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
80ml maple syrup
200g oats (gluten free if needed)
200g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 medium/large eating apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut sugar to top (optional)

Mix the flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and leave to one side to thicken – this makes a flax-egg. Whisk the dairy-free milk and lemon or vinegar together in a bowl and leave to stand for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line muffin tins with 12 muffin wrappers or grease non-stick muffin tins with a little oil.

Mix the applesauce, maple syrup, vanilla and flaxseed egg with the milk and whisk together well. Place the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and spices to a large bowl and mix to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together quickly. Do not over mix. Quickly fold in the chopped apple.

Spoon out mix into muffin cases, filling each one just under the rim. Tap the tin than place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes.

Once firm and lightly browned on top, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooking rack. Sprinkle a little extra ground cinnamon on the top if so desired and leave to cool completely.

 

Lentil and buckwheat bake

Just in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m all about eating amazingly tasty food that just so happens to be good for the body too. Just as well, as I use the food I eat to keep myself healthy, and keep my multiple sclerosis under control.

Near the end of last year, I took on the role of Ambassador for the OMS programme, setting up and running a support group for people living in my county (Sussex). OMS stands for Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a seven step, research-based programme that empowers people with MS to manage their condition with diet and lifestyle, as well as medication if needed. Food is a major part of the programme; the research indicates that a mainly whole-food plant-based diet is the way to go, which is why I wanted to get involved, as that’s my thing! This programme has had a fabulous impact on people’s lives, but it can be challenging, so being an Ambassador means that I can help give support to others nearby, and it also helps me too.

Yesterday we had our latest meet up. Everyone brings an OMS-friendly dish to share. We had a veritable feast, including three different cakes (I of course had to try them all). I had been pondering for a few days about what to take, but then remembered a recipe I had made years ago for my then boyfriend (who is my now husband!). This was in early days of veggie cooking, and I remember it was a bit too hard-core for him. He’d never heard of buckwheat and wasn’t very impressed with my ‘hippie’ offering. The recipe has been improved and refined since then so I decided to see how it went down with the OMS group. Fortunately, everyone loved it, and wanted the recipe, hence this blog post.

Buckwheat benefits from being soaked if you have time, in order to remove some of the phytic acid that can make it less digestible for some people. Phytic acid is a naturally occurring enzyme found in grains, seeds, pulses and nuts that prevents the produce from growing until the conditions are right. This is good for storage, not so good if you struggle to absorb nutrients due to poor gut health. Different foods have different amounts. Cooking often removes most of it; soaking beforehand also helps too – if you remember! Sometimes even an hour in some warm water will help. If you do that with buckwheat, you’ll see the drained water contains a cloudy gloop. That’s the phytic acid making an exit. If you don’t have time, don’t worry too much – the buckwheat gets a good boiling before being baked.

This dish takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes in total to make, so might seem a bit too much like hard work. Don’t be put off though as it can be eaten hot or cold, and freezes really well, perfect to grab for a packed lunch or quick evening meal. Play around with the flavours to fit your tastes. I like the addition of a few chilli flakes to give it a bit extra pizzazz.

So if you fancy a tasty, versatile, thoroughly fibre and plant protein packed meal, this lentil and buckwheat bake is for you. If you would like to know more about the OMS programme, or discover your nearest OMS group, check out their website here.

Lentil and buckwheat bake (makes 9-12 slices depending on how you cut them)

100g buckwheat groats***

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
175g red lentils
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon tamari
800ml water or vegetable stock
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan and toast the buckwheat groats for 5 minutes or so until they release a nutty aroma and start to brown slightly. Turn off the heat and tip out onto a plate to stop any further toasting.

Grab a medium-sized saucepan and heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom. When bubbling, add the onion, carrot and bay leaf. Sauté for 5 minutes over a medium heat until both start to soften. Stir frequently and don’t let the onion stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if needed. Add the chopped tomato, herbs and tamari and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the red lentils and toasted buckwheat. Mix together well and cook for a minute, so the flavours start to absorb into the lentils. Carefully pour in the water or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, pop on the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the fluid has been absorbed and the mix is thick and gloopy. You  may need to remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to evaporate the last bit of water.

Whilst the mix is simmering, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a square baking tray or dish with baking paper.

Once the mix is thick and gloopy, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and stir in the chilli flakes, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper. Check the flavour and add more seasoning if needed. Spoon the mix into the prepared baking tin – you may wish to sprinkle a few more chilli flakes over the top if you like a little kick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes or so before cutting – if it’s too hot the mix will fall apart when you cut it.

Using the baking paper, transfer the bake onto a board and cut into 9 – 12 slices (depending on how big you like them). Can be served hot or cold, keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days and freezes well.

*** Soak for 1 hour or over night if needed. Rinse well and pat dry on some kitchen roll before toasting. You will need to toast for about 10 minutes.

 

Warming bean and tomato soup

Winter has definitely kicked in; the beautiful old oak tree that over-hangs our garden is unceremoniously dumping piles of leaves on the grass that takes a lot of energy and effort to clear. And the cold bitter wind dotted with tiny snowflakes fluttering around are a sure sign that it’s time to keep warm on the inside as well as the outside.

This is the time of year when thick, warming soups and stews are best, offering comforting and tasty nourishment that keeps the chills away. I love this bean and tomato soup as it’s incredibly easy to make and is packed full of healthy phytonutrients that help boost the immune system. And with a hefty helping of lentils and beans, it’s also packed full of plant-based protein. It’s rather lovely too!

So next time you’re shopping, make sure all these ingredients are in your basket and give yourself a ‘souper’ warming treat!

Bean and tomato soup (serves 4-6)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 cup red lentils
750ml vegetable stock
400g tin mixed beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper

Put a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large pan and heat until bubbling or spray the bottom with olive oil. Add the onion, leek, carrot and celery, and sweat with the lid on over a medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the veg start to soften. Add the garlic and  lentils and cook for another minute, stirring all the time so they don’t stick to the pan. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, smoked paprika, cumin and thyme and mix well, then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Once boiling, pop on the lid, reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are mushy.

Turn off the heat, leave to cool for a couple of minutes then blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Stir in the rinsed beans, season to taste with salt and pepper and gently heat through until the soup is bubbling and the beans are hot. Serve piping hot and feel instantly warmed from head to toe!

Savoury pumpkin scones

I often get asked where the ideas for my recipes come from. Sometimes, I just make things up on the spot, others are inspired by something I have read or seen in a magazine or on the internet. Occasionally, an idea rumbles around in the back of my mind for a long time then suddenly comes together. These pumpkin scones are in that category.

Before my dairy-free and plant-based days, I had an amazing recipe for pumpkin scones that I think appeared in a Riverford veg box. They were delicious. It disappeared when we packed up our house for storage whilst we were overseas never to be found, and no longer on the Riverford website (or not that I could find anyway). Now I cook mainly fat-free as well, I wanted to work out how to successfully replace the fat ingredient, using pumpkin puree as an oil and egg replacement; a few attempts resulted in very dense, bullet-like scones. Not  for general consumption!

Finally, I cracked it! These savoury pumpkin scones are seriously satisfying and tasty, as well as super healthy. And they are just like normal scones in texture and weight, not a bullet in sight! Perfect for lunch or afternoon tea, they’re also fabulous dunked in a warming winter soup.  Definitely worth the time spent thinking about them!

Savoury pumpkin scones (makes 6x7cm wide scones)
400g spelt flour (use plain gluten free if needed)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme or sage
150g pumpkin puree*
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tablespoons of water
4 tablespoons rice or soya milk
a few pumpkin seeds for decoration

* I make my pumpkin puree by roasting a few slices of pumpkin or squash with the skin on in the oven, covered with tin foil (the steam helps it cook and retain it’s fluid). When cooled, I removed the skin and then mashed it in a bowl before adding the other wet ingredients.

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas mark 6. Line a baking tray with parchment or a silicon baking mat.

Mix the pumpkin puree, olive oil, flaxseed and water and the rice milk together in a bowl. Make sure they are well combined. In another bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt and herbs and mix together well. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and cut in with a knife until the mixes start to combine, then use your hands to bring it all together.

Remove from the bowl and knead gently on the worktop until you have a soft dough. Carefully flatten the dough with your palm until it’s spread a bit and 3cm thick. Using a 7cm wide cookie cutter, cut out your scones and place onto the baking tray. Re-knead the dough and flatten a couple of times until you have used it all up. Brush the tops with dairy free milk and add pumpkin seeds for decoration. Bake in the oven for 14-18 minutes until lightly golden on top and firm on the bottom. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a tray. Enjoy!

Sweet potato falafels

We have a bit of thing for falafels in this house. It’s one of our weekly staples – they’re easy to make, taste amazing and can fill up even the hungriest of teenage boys. Lunch, dinner or snack, there’s always a good time for a falafel! I’ve had my basic recipe up on the blog for a few years now (see http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/fabulous-falafels/), so time to add in some extra flavour, and nutrients, with my sweet potato version.

If you saw my last post with the pretty infographic (having discovered canva.com, there will be more of these!), there are loads of reasons to add sweet potato into your meals. The downside of falafels is that they can sometimes be a little dry; adding in sweet potato takes that risk away. You end up with a moist and tasty little bite that benefits from being baked rather than fried (as so many shop or restaurant bought falafels are).

Initially, I steamed the sweet potato but this just added texture rather than flavour, and extra effort. By baking the sweet potato, you just need to plan a little more. If you know that falafels are on your menu in the week, and you have the oven on for something else, wrap the sweet potato in some foil and pop it in to bake. Once ready and cooled, just keep in the fridge until it’s time to make your falafels.

To mix it up a bit more, you could use butter beans or even cannelloni beans; they still have great amounts of fibre and minerals, but I tend to still to good old fashioned chickpeas. And if you’re up for some experimentation, remember to save the fluid drained from the tin; this is known as aquafaba and is an amazing egg white replacement (I feel another infographic coming on!).

I like to serve these lovely falafels wrapped in some crisp lettuce with salads and plant based mayo on the side. Or you can go for wholemeal pitta breads or wraps if you need to fill hungry tummies! So give these gorgeous little bites a go – they’re dairy free, gluten free and fully plant based. And, of course most importantly, taste delicious.

Sweet potato falafels (makes 12)

1 medium sweet potato, baked, cooled and peeled
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls fresh coriander and/or parsley, leaves and stems
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic, crushed or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chickpea/gram flour
salt and pepper

Place the cooked sweet potato, chickpeas, herbs, spices, garlic and seasoning into a food processor and pulse a few times until combined – you want a little texture. If the mix is too wet, add the chickpea flour to thicken.
Shape into small patties and place on a baking sheet. Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to set.
Heat the oven to 180ºC. Remove the falafels from the fridge and bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Turn, then bake for another 8-10 until lightly browned and firm.
Can be served hot or cold.

Chilli sweetcorn baked polenta

Here’s my next instalment of ‘what to do with lots of sweetcorn and courgettes at the end of a good summer?’ series. This dish is focused on sweetcorn, and is a double corn recipe using both fresh off the kernels with dried and ground corn.

Polenta

Polenta is one of those products that can delight or dismay, depending on how it’s cooked and the texture. I had never really tried it until I went along to an Italian cooking demo whilst living in India. Yes, you read that right! It might sound a bit random, but there was a great Italian restaurant (called Toscano) in the mall next to our housing compound, run by two French brothers. I know you’d expect them to be Italian, but hey, in that’s how things roll in the awesome global mix that is Bangalore! It was a bit of an expat retreat serving familiar European dishes with an Indian kick (i.e.; lots of chilli) and pizzas that kept the kids more than happy.

As it turned out, I couldn’t actually eat the finished polenta dish they were demonstrating as it contained breadcrumbs, which was a shame but avoiding deep fried food is never a bad thing really. But what I did learn was how to prepare it from scratch and how to maximise flavour without overloading it with butter and cheese, perfect for the dairy free diner.

The top bit of advise, as always, was the simplest – keep tasting until you get it right, and use good quality ingredients. I’ve since lost the recipe demonstrated that day, but I was so glad to see how to make it, plus I gained valuable tips on what to do, and not do, in cooking demos!

I used to get quite confused about the difference between polenta and the ground maize used for Mexican dishes and featuring on mainly American recipe sites. Basically, polenta is ground cornmeal, just slightly more coarse with less of the healthy outer grain removed, so theoretically should contain more fibre and nutrients, but modern processing methods may make that assumption defunct! In the US, it’s often frowned upon as some cornmeal is made from genetically modified corn, plus different coloured corn contains less nutrients. If you want to know more, check out this article to help make things clearer http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-cornmeal-and-polenta-word-of-mouth-211404

The good thing about polenta is that it’s gluten free, so useful if you need to be careful, and still has a useful amount of fibre to help transit the sugar content through. It can be used as a base for other dishes like cakes, bread or crunchy coatings, as well as just made up in it’s own right.

The nutrition in this dish really comes from the fresh corn kernels – those bright yellow buttons are packed with phytonutrients that are good for the eyes and contain anti-oxidants, as well as a load of insoluble fibre that the friendly bacteria in your gut just love to munch on. I used this as an accompaniment to a courgette based chilli dish and they complimented each other perfectly, but you could serve it with a fresh salsa, avocado dip or fresh summer green salad – any rainbow dish will do, for lunch, dinner or a snack. So why not give this a try and let the sun shine from your plate!

Baked chilli polenta

Baked sweetcorn chilli polenta
2 cobs of sweetcorn
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g polenta
750ml vegetable stock
1 heaped teaspoon ground oregano/Italian herbs
1 red chilli finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed chilli
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grab a 23x30cm baking tin, grease and line with baking paper.
Next, cut the corn off the cobs. Heat a dash of olive oil in a medium sized pan and sauté the corn for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t stick. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the polenta and cook for a minute, stirring continually. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly with the heat on low so that it steadily thickens without sticking to the pan. You need to get rid of all the lumps. It’s ready when the texture is smoother and no longer grainy. This takes about 10 minutes or so – be patient and have a cup of tea to hand to keep you going! It should become really thick, but not so thick you can’t move it around, so add a little more stock if needed, but don’t go mad otherwise the mix will be too loose. When you’re happy with the texture, stir in the herbs, chill, baking powder and nutritional yeast if you’re using. Season with salt and pepper and mix really well to make sure everything is combined. Taste and add more flavour as needed. Your could stir in a little extra virgin olive oil as well at this point but it’s not essential.

Spoon the mix out into the prepared baking tin and smooth down the top so it’s equally spread out – a bit tricky as it’s so sticky. With the recommended size tin, it should be about 5cm thick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a dark golden crust has formed. Remove from the oven, rest in the tray for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to firm up. Once it’s cool enough to handle and set, peel off the baking paper and cut into shapes. If it needs warming up, pop back in the oven to warm though for a few minutes and serve. Enjoy!

Sweetcorn and courgette fritters

Sweet corn and courgettes are right in season at the moment, and it’s a bumper crop. I love sweetcorn. Ripened during the long sunny (hopefully!) summer days, fresh corn is so sweet and succulent it’s a joy to eat. Sometime it can be hard to buy unprepared cobs in the supermarket, so I like to get my sweetcorn elsewhere – farmers markets or shops, greengrocer or veg box schemes are all good sources of cobs still covered in their husks. That way you get to unwrap them, revealing the vibrant yellow kernels voluptuously packed in tight, clinging to the side of the cob, ready and waiting to be eaten.

Courgettes are prolific this time of the year, especially if you manage to beat the slugs and snails to grown them yourself, or if you get a veg box delivered. Although they tend to be available most of the year, I prefer them at this time as they tend to be less watery and more flavoursome. Not that I used to like them – whether it’s my tastebuds that have changed, or it’s the courgettes, but I used to find them bitter and quite unpleasant. That all changed when I went on honeymoon to Egypt (a few years ago now!). The hotel’s restaurant always had a buffet style service, and courgettes were served in a huge vat, just lightly cooked with nothing added. It wasn’t just the cooking that was light – the courgette skins were a really pale green, almost white, as if they had been bleached by the searing dessert sun. And maybe the sun also altered the flavour, as these had all the courgette taste, but none of the bitterness. Suddenly I was a courgette fan.

Which is a good thing, as they are packed full of super nutritious goodies like vitamin C and potassium as well as fibre, and of course lots of water. They are really useful veg to have around as they can be used in a whole range of dishes, either as a base ingredient or the main star.

But no matter how much I love both sweetcorn and courgettes, when there’s a lot of them about at the same time, it can be a challenge to find new ideas to use them. So to help out, I’m going to do a few extra posts over the next few days with some ideas for you to try.

The first are these gorgeous sweetcorn and courgette fritters. Now fritters are not usually on the menu at home as traditionally they contain milk, eggs and are fried in loads of butter or oil. But after a little playing around, this recipe still deserves the title of fritter even though it’s dairy free, gluten free, plant based and baked so oil free too. The good news is that they taste amazing, and are gulped down in a flash at home – phew! Great for a light lunch served with a zingy dip or served up with different vegetables or salads to make a more substantial main meal.

To make these fritters beautifully caramelised without frying, I use a silicon baking mat instead of an oiled baking tin or pan frying. Whole healthy fats are really good for us, but refined oils are not as their altered molecular structure can be harmful to our bodies, and cooking oil at high temperatures affects that structure even more. The silicon baking sheets cook everything really well and still gives a gorgeously browned outside, plus nothing sticks – very clever! It’s an essential item in my kitchen cupboard now and would highly recommend them.

So if you fancy ‘frittering’ away a little time, give these a go and see what you think. There are loads of flavour combinations you could use – let me know if you try something new.

Baked sweetcorn and courgette fritters (makes 12)

1 large cob of corn, cooked
1 medium courgette, grated
3-4 spring onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons chickpea (gram/besan) flour
1 tablespoon polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
90mls dairy free milk
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon baking mat onto a large cookie tray. Place the grated courgette into a sieve and press out some of the fluid (not too much as it will contribute towards the total fluid content). Place the squeezed courgette, sweetcorn, spring onion, garlic and chilli into a bowl, mix well and put to one side. In another bowl, mix the gram flour, polenta, seasoning, baking powder and ground flaxseed together. Pour in the dairy free milk and whisk together to form a batter. Leave for a few minutes to allow the flaxseed to swell and absorb some of the liquid.

Tip the veggie mix into the batter and mix well until everything is combined and holding together well on a spoon (i.e. not too runny). If your mix is a bit thick, add some more dairy free milk, if it’s too runny, add a little more chickpea flour. Let the mix sit for a minute or two.

Dollop a heaped spoonful of mix onto the prepared baking tray and spread out a little with the back of the spoon. Repeat until the mix is used up. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so until the top has set. Flip the fritter over and cook for another 10 minutes until the base is browned. Serve with freshly made chunky cucumber guacamole (link here soon).

Winter warmer – celeriac

It’s that time of year when comfort food is a must. The end of January means we’re ploughing our way through winter but the weather is still grey and cold, the nights long and Spring seems a long way off. I treated myself to some sneaky winter sun by nipping back to India for a week; the winter weather in Bangalore is near perfect for me – bright blue skies, high 20s in the day, cooler in the mornings. Coming back to a fresh north wind, snow showers and minus 0 temperatures is my penance!

Having left the family home alone, I was expecting the fridge to be bare yesterday lunchtime – fortunately the Riverford vegetable box had arrived so there was lots of fresh produce to play with. Soup was definitely in order, and there on the shelf waiting for me was one of my favourite veggies – celeriac.

A member of the same family as celery, the bulbous roots are cultivated rather then the stems and leaves. I feel a bit sorry for celeriac as it just a bit bobbly and ugly – it reminds me of The Ood on Dr Who! But as the saying goes, true beauty lies within, and underneath the cracks and bumps lies clear, creamy flesh that tastes rich and satisfying when cooked. Of course, it can be finely sliced and used in salads or remoulade, but that’s another blog post.

Celeriac is under-rated as a winter root vegetable – nutritionally it’s packed full of fibre, essential for a healthy gut, as well as potassium, vitamin C, K and B, some magnesium and manganese. If you want a potato substitute, it works brilliantly as a mash and has a lower GI as it releases it’s sugars more slowly, great if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic. It also has minimal fat content, and of course no cholesterol, so combined with the high fibre levels, works brilliantly to help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels (the bad stuff!).

As the oven was on for a long time at Christmas, I baked a celeriac whole and served it up as a whole so everyone could help themselves, spooning out the creamy flesh straight from the foil. It was delicious. If you want to do that, it takes about 2 hours 20minutes, depending on the size of your root. Clean the outside skin as much as possible and rub with salt and a little olive oil. Drop a couple of garlic cloves on the top and then wrap up in tin foil. Place in an oven on a baking dish at 180oC and bake for 2 hours, then open up the foil and cook for another 20 minutes. The celeriac should be soft to the touch. Take out of the oven and cut open, add some non-dairy butter if you so desire and serve as it is.

But that is not the recipe for today – now you have two for the price of one! This celeriac and apple soup is fabulous and really quick and easy to make. It’s comforting, warming and filling – all the things you need on a winters day – packed with minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients to keep you healthy, low in fat and simple carbs, so it won’t make you fat (unlike so many winter comforts!). Serve with some chopped almonds, chives and a good sprinkle of black pepper. Serious comfort, dairy free and delicious!

Celeriac and apple soup
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 medium celeriac
2 apples
1 teaspoon thyme
1 litre vegetable stock
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
toasted sliced almonds and chives (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onion and celery. Whilst this is cooking, peel the celeriac and apple and chop into small chunks – both start to oxidise when open to the air, so you want to work fast so they don’t get too discoloured. Add both to the pan with the thyme and continue to sauté for a few minutes on a low heat to caramelise a little. Add the stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes or so until all the veggies and apple are soft. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. If the soup is too thick for you, add more stock or some non-dairy milk. Reheat and serve, garnished with almonds and chives if you so desire. Enjoy!